The Tar Heels are heading to Philadelphia to play UCLA in the Sweet Sixteen round of the NCAA Tournament. The Heels were on fire throughout the first weekend — they dominated a good Marquette team, and built just enough of a lead to take down Baylor, despite Brady Manek and Caleb Love leaving the game. They must now face a Bruins team that is currently 27-7, and just finished taking care of Akron and Saint Mary’s in their first set of games.
As some may recall, the Heels were supposed to play UCLA in the CBS Sports Classic, but COVID forced the Bruins out of the event. It would’ve been great if that game happened in hindsight, but now we will get a battle between these two teams when they are at their best. Let’s go ahead and take a look at some stats for UCLA, and then we will discuss how they match up against Carolina.
UCLA Tale of the Tape
Overall record: 27-7
Conference record: 15-5
Points per game: 76.4
Field goal average: 45.0%
Three-point percentage: 35.1%
Rebounding per game: 37.1
Assists per game: 14.0
Turnovers per game: 9.2
KenPom Ranking: #8
Best Win: #3 Arizona
Worst Loss: Arizona State
Friday’s Betting Line per DraftKings.com: UCLA -2.5, O/U set at -110
The Bruins completed a really interesting schedule during the regular season, and I mostly say that because of how the Pac-12 performed. Thankfully they scheduled a game against #4 Villanova back in November, and that was enough of a signature win to help them keep their #2 ranking until they were taken down by #1 Gonzaga later in the month. From there, they faced a lot of unranked teams, and then they had games postponed/canceled all the way to the end of the calendar year. They resumed action against Long Beach State on January 6th, and ended up losing in overtime to unranked Oregon on January 13th.
Here are the games that truly matter when it comes to figuring out this team: they were able to take down #3 Arizona 75-59 on their home court, which I’d imagine pleased Bruins fans until they then lost to not only the Wildcats in the second game of the home-and-home series, but also to a really bad Arizona State team in triple-OT. They would eventually earn two more ranked wins, both against USC, but that is really where the story ends. This team has had a few excellent wins, some really bad losses, and in the NCAA Tournament so far they have wins against Akron and Saint Mary’s. The win over the Gaels is both impressive and not impressive in my eyes, mostly because they did beat Gonzaga on their home court…but outside of their win, the Gaels’ resume didn’t have much meat to it. I’d argue that the Tar Heels have faced tougher opponents to this point in the season, and that could play a huge role in this game.
The one guarantee that I can make about the Bruins’ roster is that they do not lack size. Outside of their starting point guard, Tyger Campbell (5’11), three of their starters are 6’7, and their center measures in at 6’9. UNC still has them beat when it comes to the size of the front court, but as far as the overall composition of UCLA’s starting lineup, it is a pretty balanced matchup.
As far as scoring goes, junior guard Johnny Juzang leads the team, averaging 15.7 points per game. Fellow junior guard Jaime Jaquez Jr. is right behind him with his 14 ppg., but is shooting at a 48.2% clip. Tyger Campbell is the one to watch out for on the perimeter, as he is shooting at a 41.3% clip, which blows his freshman and sophomore averages out of the water. RJ Davis is more than likely going to draw the assignment of covering him, so he will have to make sure that he is ready to chase Campbell off of the three-point line all night long.
Truly the most dangerous players for the Bruins are going to be Juzang and Jaquez. Both are tall guards that know how to attack the paint, and Juzang is a dangerous threat from the perimeter. I’m betting my money on Leaky Black covering him all night, but that means that either Brady Manek or Caleb Love have to be ready to suppress Jaquez. He does a great job of getting to the free throw line, which is probably a sore subject for both Tar Heels, but they will have to be careful or he will make them pay.
UCLA could arguably be the Heels’ toughest game yet in this tournament, but it’s also really hard to say that after the game against Baylor. If Brady Manek never gets thrown out of the game, the Heels probably don’t go to overtime with the Bears. It also feels like every UNC is playing exactly how you want them to play at this stage of the season: if Caleb Love has a bad game, then RJ Davis steps up, if Bacot is struggling, Manek is on fire, and vice versa. There’s been a different hero in every game so far, though I will say that Manek has been consistently awesome. I feel like UNC will have their hands full with UCLA, but UCLA will also have their hands full with UNC.
Ultimately this game is going to come down to toughness. It is extremely hard for me to pick a team that’s tougher than the Heels right now, because they have proven that they are more battle-tested than any of us could’ve expected. The Bruins are roughing it out in their own way, but at the end of the day I just don’t think they have it in them to take down this particular team, unless some shenanigans like the Baylor game happen. Call me over-confident, call me naive, but I like the Heels’ chances of moving on to the Elite Eight.
Prediction: UNC 67, UCLA 60